Capitalist Politics and the Auto Workers’ Strike

Auto workers battle the Big 3 auto companies across the U.S.
Auto workers battle the Big 3 auto companies across the U.S. | Photo:

By David Sole

The rush to Detroit by President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump just two weeks into the United Auto Workers strike exposes deep problems in the political arena of the capitalist system. Although wide differences exist in the orientation and agendas of these two candidates for the 2024 presidential election, they arrived only one day apart to speak to workers in and around the Motor City.

Biden arrived on Tuesday, September 26 and joined UAW strikers at the Ford Wayne Assembly Plant. The media made a big thing of him being the first sitting president to walk a picket line. His remarks to the press supported the striking union who has taken on General Motors, Ford and Stellantis corporations.

Why did Biden, the leader of the Democratic Party, one of the two capitalist parties in the U.S., take this unprecedented action in a major labor dispute? The reason lay in the profound problems that the capitalist system faces and the instability of the political superstructure of “democratic institutions.”

The Democratic Party represents a wing of the billionaire ruling class that believes that it is wiser to slightly moderate the level of exploitation of working and poor people in the country. This isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of self-interest. By giving some hope to people that their lives may be improved through voting the super-rich can more easily insure that uprisings will not disturb their collection of profits.

Of course the Democrats won’t overturn the exploitative capitalist system so most of the promises of these politicians are never carried out. It becomes a struggle for the Democratic Party to again and again win over their base at election time. This is one underlying weakness of the Biden campaign for 2024. A victory at the polls in 2024 won’t be easy with increasing poverty, growing military spending and ever present racism and police terror.

So Joe Biden came to Detroit and tried to grab the headlines by supporting the auto workers’ strike. By doing so he hoped to generate some momentum for his reelection campaign. The workers, no doubt, felt this was a good thing, but it also served to obscure the real role of the capitalist dominated leadership of the Democratic Party. Should the struggle intensify, the working class will learn the real class nature of the capitalist system and the politicians running it.

In the past few decades some in the ruling elite have become worried. The financial crisis of 2007-10 saw the failure of major banks, investment firms, mortgage lenders and other bedrock corporations. Untold hundreds of billions of tax dollars were shoveled into these criminal institutions under the idea they were “too big to fail and too big to jail.”

The ruling class coalesced around the election of Barack Obama as a way to, hopefully, keep a lid on the anger building in broad sections of the population. Young people took to the streets in 2011 in the Occupy Wall Street encampment which spread around the country focusing attention on the “one-percent  versus the ninety-nine percent.”

In 2016 the more right-wing section of the ruling class got behind the candidacy of Donald Trump who won the election, although getting a minority of the popular vote. He better represented the racist, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-disabled, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideology that capitalism needs to keep people divided.

In May 2020, the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, triggered the largest and longest wave of anti-police terror demonstrations in U.S. history. What frightened the ruling class was that the demonstrations were made up of African Americans, joined by a significant percent of whites, Asian, Native, Arab and other peoples.

Trump’s insurrection following his electoral defeat in November 2020 did not succeed. But he and his ultra-right ruling class colleagues, still hope for a comeback in 2024. To win an election Trump must mobilize beyond his hard-core, racist base. That’s why Donald Trump came to Michigan just one day after President Biden walked the UAW picket line.

Trump, however, made clear that he wants no part of the labor union movement. After all the billionaire class, the corporations and banks are no friends of labor. So Trump went straight to a non-union shop to talk workers. But his message was for Wall Street, reassuring them that, while he must appeal to workers to win votes, he is firmly in the camp of the exploiters of labor, something he made very clear throughout his entire four years as U.S. president.

The striking auto workers, and the entire working class, still have to learn through their own experiences that they are in a struggle with the capitalist class and that both the Democrats and Republican parties are controlled by that class. It will only be through their own efforts that poor and working people can win some victories and, one day, end the capitalist system of exploitation.

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